I’m Pete Carr. I'm a photographer and this isn't a photography newsletter. This is a form of "Rubber Duck Debugging". Writing helps me process thoughts and work through problems. So I write to my computer about issues relating to mental health and being autistic. I then share it with you fine folk. There's nice photos too. 🖖
This week's photos are from the 2021 'River of Light' light installation festival in Liverpool. They are all of the rainbow bridge outside the Museum of Liverpool. FYI it's the museum's 10th birthday on Monday. Happy birthday!
Knowingly Autistic - Year 3
Today is my 3rd anniversary of my Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) diagnosis. Back in issue 36 I wrote about what happened on that day. Today I'm going to have a little think about what has happened in the past year. A COVID year. A year of lockdown. A year unlike any other.
The biggest change over the past year is that I've recognised areas of my personality where the autism diagnosis doesn't fit. Why am I so easily distracted and unable to focus when being autistic means I'm great at focusing on a single task? I noticed that I am prone to being knocked off topic while doing my Twitch show to the point where we have a !squirrel command (It's an Up reference about the dog who could speak and every so often said "Squirrel!" because they were distracted). It would take me about 1 hour to start the show due to distractions.
I'm still questioning, reading and learning but over the past year I've come to the conclusion I have ADHD type inattentive. The reason why I never considered I had ADHD is because I'm not hyperactive. Turns out you can have non-hyperactive ADHD called "type inattentive". It used to be called ADD. Attention Deficit Disorder. Now it's all simply ADHD. shrug There's a number of autistic people who have ADHD. It seems quite common an overlap. I am yet to talk to my doctor about it and there maybe medicine they can prescribe to help me focus so I should get on that. Just, you know, distractions. Squirrel!
I recently became aware of polarised lenses for sunglasses that have been a game changer. Top tip. Aldi sell them for £3.99! I bought 5 pairs yesterday. So what is it? Go stand by a line of cars on a sunny day and you'll see the sun reflected in every window. Polarised lenses reduce that reflection down to almost nothing. Imagine trying to walk around when every piece of glass you pass is reflecting the sun back at you. I wear a peaked cap to block the sun from my vision. It's incredibly trigger for my sensory processing condition. They can also help reduce the sheen from certain surfaces to soften the light on them. I use a filter on my camera lens in architectural photography quite often but I never thought of using them on my sunglasses. Total game changer. Walking down the street often felt like trying to navigate an assault course. If I was already stressed it could push me into autistic overload then maybe shutdown. Arg! Do we really need the sun?
Over the past year I've come to realise that if I can remove anxiety and depression I can be happy, excited, creative and my brain buzzes with ideas in a way it never used to. By being at home in a controlled environment away from visual and audio sensory triggers and away from social anxiety I can flourish. I've had multiple writing commissions and I want to pursue more. I still want to do photography but it is encouraging to know I can do other things. I really enjoy this side of me but it does require me to be in a good place.
To that end I'm desperately trying to protect my mental health. I'm telling my brain "No. Don't go there. Don't need that in my head. These are not the thoughts you are looking for. Move along." I treat my brain as a stupid monkey desperate for attention. It often does stupid things I don't care for so I have to tell it off. It's anxious and depressive thoughts are not something I chose or care for. Jog on monkey brain. Does this always work? No. Just yesterday something triggered me and I should know better than to accept the thoughts. I mentally crashed and became overcome by panic. It didn't help that this was right before I was about to go swimming and it was windy so the water wasn't a calm place to relax. I'm not able to do this every time but there have been some small victories. I think this is a form of mindfulness. Acknowledging that something over there is a trigger, accepting it and moving away instead of towards. Exceptionally hard to do but if you keep working on it you will get better at it.
Finally I'd like to talk about acceptance. Earlier in the year I did a charity stream on Twitch where we raised over £500 for Autistica. They the UK's leading autism research charity. We did this on Autism Acceptance Day, 2nd April. I have previously written about acceptance. Back in issue 72 and also in issue 44. Since April I've been pushing myself in ways to simply feel ok in my own skin. If I can reach a point where I accept myself then others hold no power over me. That's the theory anyway and it feels like it's working. I'm essentially doing exposure therapy. Pushing myself little by little.
For example. We were on the beach the other month and I saw a woman sunbathing, lying face down, topless. I have never seen that here. It was a quiet day and she was only doing so to avoid having bikini strap tan lines on her back. Totally understandable thing to do. 10 minutes later another woman turned up, sat down and took her top off. She then lay down but for maybe a minute she was topless. 🤯 She was respectful in her approach. If anyone saw her, as I did, you would have seen a human back. "Oh noes! A back!" Unless you had a hugely powerful lens from the other side of the River Mersey and at that exact moment pointed it at her there was no way you would have seen anything. 100% not an issue. I wanted to have that level of confidence and simple ok-ness instead of constantly living in fear when I'm outside. It's understandable when I've been called horrible things and had beer and food thrown at me (even as recent as Christmas) while working as a photographer. Hard to move passed that and feel ok in a world that occasionally tells you to curl up and die. Upon seeing these inspiring women I decided to be more confident and accept myself for who I am. I undid my top button. 😱 At any moment a group of nuns could walk passed and feint due to my slightly exposed chest hair. You know what happened? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. A bit later I undid another one. The sky casually turned black and the world ended. My bad.
But it didn't. It was fine. I was fine. I was better than fine. I felt good. A few weeks later we were on the beach and I undid all the buttons on my shirt. I kept it on because years of societal fat shaming have led me to believe the sight of my untanned belly will cause peoples faces to melt. 😮💨 Little by little I'm gaining more confidence. It's silly. It's all so silly. In an article I wrote for the Mersey Maritime Museum I said how I'm fine, even empowered, when I go swimming in my just my swim shorts because I'm doing something most people wouldn't. They look on in shock as I get into freezing cold water wearing nothing more than gloves, socks and shorts with a big purple beard and rainbow nail polish. Sitting on a beach with my shirt off chatting to my wife is technically a different environment so I can't sit topless. I would on holiday but not at home. The horror!
To try and get over all this I remember what learned in Amsterdam. It's the viewers problem not mine. In Amsterdam we were walking round at night and almost no-one had their curtains drawn. Lights on. Big windows. Entire interior visible to the world. What if you needed to grab something and you were just out the shower? People could see your doodle! Is that likely to happen? Probably not and if it does is it really the end of the world? Absolutely. Grab the cats. Flee! No no no. It's not an issue at least it's not an issue in my head. Dutch society hasn't collapsed by having big open curtainless windows. It could be argued they're better off living in a society that is accepting of people looking at them. If you see something you don't like well it's your issue for looking. Who are you to judge? The issue is not in my head. It's in yours.
That's the key thing. It's in their head not mine. It's not my monkey brain making up nonsense desperately trying to get attention. It's an entirely different monkey brain altogether and that is their issue to deal with. Not mine. I am desperately trying to live this way because it is proving to be good for me. I am happier. I am more confident and a little more outgoing. It'll take time and I'll have set backs but for now it's doing good. I'm looking to buy tiny speedos for swimming. I find there's a massive difference in swimming in beach shorts and proper tight fit swimming trunks. I feel more connected to the water in tight fitting trunks. So in an effort to be more confident I plan to get tiny Speedos. Not black ones. Bright ones to totally own it. If I feel great I can do great things. If I sit at home listening to my monkey brain and living in fear I can't do anything. As Captain Pike, who I quote at the end of each newsletter, said "Be bold."
So that's year 3. Struggles for sure but I am feeling great about being autistic. I am different. That empowers me to outwardly be different and I'm learning to accept myself so I can not give a fudge to what others think. Year 4! Higher, further, faster!
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“Be bold. Be brave. Be courageous.” Christopher Pike, Captain USS Discovery.
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I'm streaming photography in various forms on Twitch.tv/petecarr. Stream schedule is Tues/Wed/Fri at 7:30PM GMT and Monday at 2PM GMT. Photography focused but accessible. Friday is a look at art events I've photographed. You can also ask me about autism and there's cat cam too.